May 10, 2012

The killer of killer apps


Fred Stutzman

They’re here. Apps that undo all the hard work of the internet—aptly called “productivity apps.” They are apps to keep your mind on work and off the distractions of the web and social media. Their developer, researcher Fred Stutzman, explains in an interesting interview with New Scientist:

Freedom is an application that locks you out of your internet connection for a set time, and the only way to circumvent it is to reboot your computer. Anti-Social is similar except it blocks distracting websites like social networks, which are leeches of our time when we are trying to get things done. They are apps that force you to work.

Stutzman tells New Scientist that he developed the apps because he needed to get some work done, “I wanted to hack my computer back to just a typewriter so I could write my dissertation.”

Apparently other people are also trying to get work done. He’s had over 300,000 people download Freedom so far, and 125,000 have downloaded Anti-Social.

Freedom comes with praise from some very hot writers. On his website for the app, Nick Hornby calls it “Absolutely brilliant!” Naomi Klein writes, “I love If I ever finish writing my book, this is why.” Dave Eggers, Emily Mandel and Seth Godin all think it’s wonderful too.

While many believe the need for such an app is proof-positive that we humans now lack all self-control and willpower, Stutzman doesn’t believe that’s the case:

Our computers are just getting more distracting, with multimedia and rich content. Social media is all about obligation – your obligation to respond to messages and so on. Knowing there is this constant social hum in the background drives us to these sites, and away from our work….We are social beings – we want to interact with others – so tools that allow us to be constantly social appeal to core parts of our humanness.

He sees his apps’ success as part of the evolution of humans’ relationship to new technology:

I think that social media and information overload are real things. To take the long view, we are only at the beginning of adjusting to the information environment we have found ourselves in for the past 10 to 20 years. One of the main reasons people use Freedom is pretty utilitarian – to actually get work done – but I think it does reflect this larger trend of people wanting to disconnect and have a little time to themselves.

And on that note, I will now sign off….


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.